Execution date set for local man who killed 3 over failing marriage

Billie Wayne Coble in court. (File photo)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Eight days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected what could be his final appeal, a Waco state district judge set an execution date Wednesday afternoon for a Central Texas man who killed three members of his estranged wife’s family in 1989.

Billy Wayne Coble, 70, initially refused to enter the courtroom for the sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon after his appellate attorney failed to show up.

Waco lawyer Russ Hunt, Jr. was appointed to represent him in the hearing and State District Judge Matt Johnson set a Feb. 28, 2019 execution date.

“Justice for these families has been a long time coming. I’m glad that with today’s hearing we are one step closer to fulfilling the jury’s verdict," McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said in a statement.

Coble was convicted in 1990 of killing his in-laws, Robert and Zelda Vicha, and their son, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, at the family’s Axtell home

After shooting the three, Coble kidnapped his estranged wife, Karen Vicha, threatened to sexually assault and kill her, but was injured when he crashed his vehicle during a police chase in Bosque County.

Coble has a list of appeals, the only one successful filed in 2007 with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in the dismissal of the death sentence and an order for re-trial on punishment after the court’s opinion stated Coble’s jury faced two questions that were unconstitutional.

The punishment re-trial ended with the same result, a death sentence.

A retired police officer who worked on the Coble case and a current district judge who back then was a prosecutor and who took Coble to trial on the capital murder case for the first time were among a few dozen people who crowded into the 54th District Courtroom on Wednesday to watch the hearing.

After a few minutes the judge asked one of the bailiffs why Coble wasn’t in the courtroom and the bailiff said he was refusing to leave the holding cell.

Johnson sent a squad of bailiffs to retrieve Coble, but they reported he refused to come to the courtroom, after which Johnson called the case, read the preliminary documents concerning the appeals Coble has filed since his conviction, and then set the date.

Coble has a list of appeals, the only one successful filed in 2007 with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in the dismissal of the death sentence and an order for re-trial on punishment after the court’s opinion stated Coble’s jury faced two questions that were unconstitutional.

The punishment re-trial ended with the same result, a death sentence.

Truman Simons, a former police officer, sheriff’s deputy and now a private investigator, worked on the Coble case back in 1989.

“He killed his (father-in-law) first and wrapped him up in a rug,” Simons said.

“Then he tied up the two kids and shot Bobby Vicha.

“Then he ...waited in the garage where he killed Zelda (Vicha) and kidnapped (his estranged wife) Karen,” Simons said.

Former McLennan County Assistant District Attorney J.R. Vicha, one of the two children Coble tied up that day, was only 11-years-old at the time his family was murdered.

The boy, along with two of his cousins, were tied up inside the home while the killings took place.

During the 2008 punishment re-trial trial, prosecuted by retired Assistant District Attorney Crawford Long, Long told the jury that Coble “has a heart filled with scorpions.”